On November 3 Mississippians voted to adopt the proposed design for a new state flag, which replaced the retired flag that included the Confederate battle symbol in its design.
As Mississippi lawmakers debated retiring the old flag design in June, Ligon Duncan, Reformed Theological Seminary chancellor, issued a statement about the Mississippi flag at the request of Mississippi Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and Speaker of the House Philip Gunn. Below is an edited excerpt from the statement:
I have lived and worked in Mississippi for over half my life, but I was born into a family of eight generations of South Carolinians. My forbearers fought for the Confederacy, and their descendants have been re-fighting “The War” ever since. My father was the chaplain for the 16th Regiment, SC, Volunteers Camp 36, Sons of Confederate Veterans. I was reared on “The Lost Cause,” served as a U.S. Senate page under J. Strom Thurmond (R-SC), and I do not despise my ancestors.
But I do love my neighbors. All of them. And I want all of us, together, to be able to be proud of our state flag.
As a historian, fully sympathetic to my people and our heritage, I have to say that the symbols of the Confederacy represent not simply “the preservation of a way of life” and “States’ Rights,” but “States’ Rights to perpetuate chattel slavery, by denying black people social and political equality” (these things are explicitly in Mississippi’s Ordinance of Secession), and then, to make things worse, these symbols have been persistently and widely used to send a message of oppression, terror, inferiority, and exclusion to the black people of the South in general, and our state in particular.
This is sadly true of our current state flag, the “1894 Flag,” which incorporates the Confederate battle flag. It was adopted in a time when efforts were being made to exclude black people from voting in our state and when occurrences of lynching were frequent. And it became symbolic of our state’s opposition to equal civil rights for our fellow black citizens.
The current state flag must come down and be replaced by a symbol that unites us all as fellow citizens who genuinely care about one another’s well-being.
As a Christian, this is about two biblical things: (1) Loving my neighbor, and (2) acknowledging that every person is created in God’s image. If we do that as Christian citizens, we will want our public symbols to emphatically acknowledge the humanity and equality of all our fellow citizens.
For some of our citizens that will mean parting with symbols they love, but that too is part of the Christian life. Jesus taught us to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him. It is time to call the people of this state to deny themselves and love their neighbors. They will do it, And Mississippi can show the world what it looks like to love our neighbors and deny ourselves.
ILLUSTRATION BY JULIAN RENTZSCH